Monday, August 20, 2012

Time for a Blogger Break!

There's nothing new on the Chic-fil-A front (at the moment). I've still got plenty of Cheerwine in my kitchen cabinet. It will be hard to top the story about my mother catching me going commando.

Time for a blogger break!

Me, Nick, and an unidentified, disembodied little girl, Venice Beach, CA
I'll be back after September 9th (if not before) with new stories and old memories, like the Mrs. P Mardi Gras misadventures I promised a while back. Maybe I'll tell you about the time I caused an explosion in a cafeteria during my first day on a new job. And I'm definitely going to let you know about a short play I've written that's being produced in September, which I think (hope) will be  controversial.

In the meantime, happy late summer, everyone. And thank you so much for reading my blog. I'm so fortunate to have such smart, funny, interesting, loyal readers. -- Jim  

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Memo to Shirley MacLaine: I'm Over All That, Too

A good friend recently recommended I read Shirley MacLaine's latest book, I'm Over All That. The premise intrigued: MacLaine writes that once you've reached a certain age, you know what's important and what's not. You've earned the right to say "oh hell no!" to things that have repeatedly bored, hurt, angered, or befuddled you.

Reading MacLaine's book, I realized there are several things I'm over now and will probably continue to be over. Here are a few.

I'm over one-sided conversations.

Recently, I encountered someone in a restaurant who I'd known during my Charleston days. I acknowledged him, asked how he was. It was as if a curtain had been raised, and his floor show began. He talked amusingly and yet incessantly, asking me absolutely no questions in return.

At one point, he was reminiscing aloud about Hurricane Hugo, which blew through Charleston in 1989. I mentioned that we, in San Francisco, had experienced a major earthquake the following month. This was a test; I wanted to see if my disclosure would prompt him to ask what the experience had been like for me. He failed the test.

I'm over him and people like him. I want a dialogue, and I feel sad for serial monologists. How can they ever expect to learn anything about themselves if they don't listen to other people? (The answer, of course: They aren't interested in learning about themselves, because what they'll learn won't be pretty.)

I'm over politics in general and politicians in particular.

True leaders who believe in and fight for a just cause? I love them. People who go into politics for the power, the manipulation, the media exposure? I've had a belly full of them.

I've stopped reading the vast majority of 2012 campaign news. I already know who I'm voting for as president, so why subject myself to all that needless noise? I'm way over all that, and I doubt that's going to change.

I'm over french fries.

Just kidding.

I'm over Chic-fil-A.

This is a tough one for me because I love, love, love their sandwiches. But I'm not spending my money on an organization that's so dead-set against my right to marry whoever the hell I want.

I'm not over freedom of speech.

Chic-fil-A's executives have absolutely every right to voice their opinions. And all those people who waited in line for hours to buy the restaurant's delicious sandwiches during the much-publicized Chic-fil-A appreciation days? I say good for you, go for it.

In fact, I support your right to support Chic-fil-A 100 percent. Just don't get all Judge Judy on me because I'm boycotting them. That's my right, too. And come to think of it, you should support me in my boycott just as much as I support you. We're both exercising our freedom of speech and keeping democracy alive. Everybody wins.

I'm over guns and gun lobbyists.

Yes, I know the right to bear arms is baked into the Constitution. And yes, I've heard the slogan that if you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have them. I don't know the solution to the gun violence in this country. But I know this: It's a huge problem and it needs to be addressed in a sensible way, soon. Let's start by revising that ban on assault rifles. I mean, outside the military perhaps, who has a right to an assault rifle? No one, in my view. 

I'm over entitled pedestrians and distracted drivers.

But I suspect you are, too, so let's move on.
I'm nearly over big Hollywood blockbusters.

The big Hollywood movies this summer were recycled garbage. Here's how bad it was: The Amazing Spider-Man, one of the big money makers, was a remake of a film that was only 10 years old! I'm sure I'll be tempted to pay my money for another 'tentpole' film at some point, but for now, I'm done.

I'm not over movies about real people.

My two favorite movies of the summer have been independent productions about people, not comic-book characters, and the things that make them human.

The first is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, starring Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, two actresses I greatly admire. The film is about British retirees who have lost their dreams. They think the game is over for them, reluctantly move to India--and discover that, far from being over, their lives are taking a different, and ultimately more interesting, direction.

The second is Hollywood to Dollywood, a charming documentary featuring gay, identical twins. It's the story of people (the Lane brothers) who are chasing their dreams and who, along the way, discover things even more valuable than what they were seeking. For more on H2D, see my post about the Lane twins.

I'm never over reading what you have to say.

A blog is at its best when it's a dialogue, not a one-sided conversation. I'm fortunate to have readers who can always be counted on to chime in with funny, smart, personal stories of their own. For that, I am sincerely grateful.

Now that I've buttered y'all up, I'd love to know: What are you over for good, and why? What are you not over? 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

How Swimming Saved My Life--Twice

Swimming has been good to Michael Phelps. The athlete from suburban Baltimore, Maryland racked up his 19th Olympic medal yesterday in the London Games--an historic record.

Swimming has been good to me, too, though the only metal I've ever acquired are the fillings in my teeth.

I took up swimming as a boy because I had asthma, the kind that required me to sleep next to a steam machine every night. My pediatrician suggested I take up swimming. He believed swimming for exercise would help make my respiratory system stronger, among other benefits.

L to R: Julia, Mimi, me.
And so I joined the swim team at Starmount Forest Country Club in Greensboro, to which my family belonged at the time. Two of my sisters, Mimi and Julia, also swam on the team. Mimi would return home from each competition laden with trophies. Julia and I won awards primarily for not drowning. The photo at right tells the story. Notice the direct correlation between the size of the awards and our smiles (or lack thereof).

As discouraging as my swimming competitions were, something miraculous began to happen. Though I still hear a wheeze now and then, my asthma soon become a relic of my childhood.

Surprisingly, I didn't continue to swim as a teenager, young adult, or even a middle-aged adult. Maybe swimming was a painful reminder of my childhood. Certainly it wasn't as convenient for exercise as going for a run/powerwalk in my neighborhood. In San Francisco, there aren't any lap-swim pools near us.

Fast forward to nine years ago. One of my closest friends, Mark Kelly, had just died from a long battle with cancer. I'd grown discouraged with a novel I'd been writing for four years and had decided to abandon it. And my hands and arms were constantly aching from all the computer typing I did for work. The situation had grown so bad, I wondered how else I might make a living? Writing as a profession and for a creative outlet was all I knew or wanted to know; without it, a part of me would have died.

I started seeing an amazing massage therapist, Scott Schwartz, who now runs Psoas Massage + Bodywork in San Francisco. Through multiple visits a week for months, Scott saved my hands. Once I was over the hump, he suggested I take up swimming to rebuild my strength and help prevent me from having future hand problems.

Back into the pool I dove. I'm still swimming regularly today, and I can't imagine giving it up again. There's no external stimulation to distract me when I'm swimming laps in a pool. It's just me, the water, and during the summer, the sun. My mind is free to drift, scheme, dream, and problem-solve. I once came up with a poem while swimming, and I never write poetry.

As we get deeper into the London 2012 Olympics, I'm reminded that there's a big difference between an award, like an Olympic medal, and a reward. I may not have won a single swimming competition award higher than the "Nice Try" citation, but oh, how I have been rewarded.